Rango re-teams A-list star Johnny Depp with director Gore Verbinski. The last films they worked on together were the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, a trilogy which saw great success, with Billions of dollars to back that up. Yet what the pair have made here is something completely different. A bizarre animated tale about a small lizard with an identity crisis, who stumbles across a small town called Dirt, which is inhabited by an assortment of creatures. There he establishes himself as Rango, a courageous wanderer, who soon becomes the Sheriff of Dirt, right at the same time of a terrible water shortage. It’s a massive mixture of a clichéd western and a trippy and very different, kooky animation. And both of these elements certainly have their highs, but do they successfully mix together?
The character of Rango starts off incredibly interesting. It’s a great idea, having a chameleon/lizard with an identity crisis, in which the isolation of his tank restricts him from the outside world and reaching his full potential. And Johnny Depp fits the character incredibly well, his voice suiting the neuroses that the character initially has. It’s the progression of the character that doesn’t seem to make a great deal of sense. Rango seems to go from being completely unsure of who he is to being a strongly confident far too easily when he becomes Sheriff. He has a few neuroses which remain, but I wish more of them had stayed. Better yet, maybe if the story had taken a completely different direction, this character could have remained incredibly interesting. This film is bizarre, but I think not as bizarre as it thinks it is, or wants to be. It had potential with the identity crisis element of the character to become a very strange yet original movie which blended many genres. And yes, it does do this, slightly. It seems a very strange idea for it go into a straight Western a quarter of a way into it. It becomes much more familiar and more clichéd, and unfortunately less original far too soon. However, the Western and most prominate element of the movie does have a lot going for it.
The Western setting is what makes the film much more fun, and therefore much more commercial (can you see why they did it then?). It delivers with it some nice inter-textual references to classic westerns, particularly that of the Spaghetti variety, and some other classic films, Apocalypse Now quite heavily in one stand-out sequence, involving Bat-squadrons and a wagon chase. Ok, that does sound bizarre reading it back. The supporting characters are fleshed out a lot more as well within the Western element of the narrative, particularly Isla Fisher’s Beans. But it is very predictable, nothing you haven’t seen before, yet then again it’s hard to find a film that doesn’t follow a set narrative these days. It makes the film slightly uneven in tone due to how the two elements of it (bizarre and western) work well by themselves, but never seem to successfully mould together. It’s a case of either-or. The only moment when they seem to mix well is when we meet the ‘Spirit of the West’, but then again that’s just playing on the Western inspirations rather than mixing the surreal elements of the movie with the Western spirit. Sure, you can argue that the film does mix the surreal with the Western style by simply having the strange characters in it, but all in all they’re just Western archetypes, albeit in the form of desert creatures.
Where the film excels throughout though is in its animation. It’s incredibly textured and looks quite realistic, particularly in the long and wide shots of the great American West. It’s a credit to Industrial Light and Magic, who usually specialize in effects, who now get the chance to create a fully fledged animated world, filled with amazing imagery. Some of the characters are quite dark, and their realistic look may be a bit much for younger viewers who are used to the bright and colourful characters from the Pixar and Dreamworks cannon. So, in this respect, Verbinski and Depp have produced something you wouldn’t quite expect, as it is a fairly grown up kids movie, as a lot of the inter-textual references will go straight over the heads of younger viewers. There is a lot that works though and will keep younger viewers entertained, the fairly archetypal supporting characters, the quick pace and imaginative action and the witty script.
Verbinski has produced a vivid world, that at its best is vivid and very well detailed, with a suitably epic score from the one and only Hans Zimmer. The voice cast are more than capable for their roles, Depp injecting his natural charisma and neurotic nature into the character and the mostly British voice cast keep the support strong. It certainly has a lot of imagination, it’s just it’s quite uneven and could’ve gone in a much better direction, although the Western storyline does allow for a lot more traditional fun from what could have been. Then again, seems ironic that a film about a chameleon who initially begins with an identity crisis should be tonelly uneven.